Wage theft is said to occur when employers fail to pay employees the wages that are due to them. Examples of wage theft include failure to pay a minimum wage, not paying the required overtime wages, making improper or illegal deductions from an employee's paycheck, requiring employees to work off the clock, stealing workers' tips and not allowing them to take meal breaks and rest breaks. In California, low-income workers are especially vulnerable to such unethical and illegal practices as they could face severe financial stress when their employer fails to pay them due wages.
Reporting Unpaid Wages
California law gives employees the right to report their employers who are engaging in wage theft, even if they don't currently work with that company or firm. It is common for the state Labor Commissioner's Office to prioritize the investigation those cases of unpaid wages or wage theft that involve a large number of workers as they may not have the time to launch a probe into each and every case.
If you believe that your employer owes you unpaid wages, it is crucial that you file a wage claim in order to recover those wages that are due. When the Labor Commissioner's completes an investigation, they could issue citations to collect the unpaid wages on behalf of employees and work with the employer to correct any wage violations that have occurred.
How Do You File a Claim?
In order to file a complaint for unpaid wages under the U.S. Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), you may go either to the Wage and Hour Division, which may then pursue a complaint on your behalf, or file their own lawsuit in court, which would require you to retain the services of an employment lawyer. It is important that you take such action as soon as possible.
In California, to file your wage claim, you must complete an Initial Report or Claim (a DLSE Form 1) and file it with the Department of Labor Standards Enforcement, which is a division of the California Department of Industrial Relations. In this form, you will be required to fill in information about yourself, your employer, work schedule and the types of wages or penalties you are claiming.
Documents Required to Report Unpaid Wages
If you are filing a claim with the DLSE to report unpaid wages, you will be required to submit the following documents to help assess how much in unpaid wages you are owed:
Record of hours worked: Any type of documentation that shows how many hours you have worked can be extremely helpful. This may include time sheets filed with your employer, calendar notes or journal entries.
Paystubs: Copies of any paystubs or pay slips you received for the time period during which you are claiming unpaid wages.
Notices: This is a "notice to employee," which employers in California are required to provide to employees when they hire them. This document includes vital details including your employer's name, location and your agreed-upon hourly rate of pay.
Bounced checks: If any of your paychecks bounced back because of insufficient funds, those should be included with your claim as well.
Your employer will also be asked by the DLSE to provide these and other documents. Your unpaid wage attorney can help you obtain copies of these documents as well. If you have other documents that could support your claim including a hiring letter that shows your hourly pay rate, those should be included as well.
Time Limits for Filing a Claim
Under California unpaid wage law, there are strict limits for filing an unpaid wages claim. You must file a wage and hour lawsuit within two yeas of the violation for which you are claiming back pay. The exception to this is when your employer is committing a willful violation, in which case the statute of limitations is three years. Regardless, it would be in your best interest to not wait to file your claim. Contact an experienced California wage and hour attorney before you file your claim. The statute of limitations for California wage and hour lawsuits is three years from the date when the most recent wage violation has occurred.
What is Your Wage Claim Worth?
Under California law, if your employer did not pay you at least the minimum wage or the correct minimum wage, you are entitled to the difference between what you were paid and what you should have been paid for each hour that you worked. If your employer did not pay you the correct overtime wages, you can get additional pay for every overtime hour worked. You can also get payment for any of the following:
- Unreimbursed business expenses
- Unauthorized deductions made from your paycheck by your employer
- Tips or commissions withheld by your employer
- Wages resulting from failing to provide rest or meal breaks
- Unpaid vacation or sick time
- Unpaid wages resulting from failing to provide a final paycheck on time
Contacting an Experienced Lawyer
When you do not receive due wages, you may have to endure severe financial hardship. It is important to know that California has some of the strongest laws in the nation to help you report unpaid wages and to protect workers from being exploited by unscrupulous employers. If you believe you have not received fair wages for work done, contact an experienced Los Angeles wage and hour attorney who can fight for your rights and help you receive fair compensation. At Kingsley & Kingsley Lawyers, our employment attorneys work on a contingency fee basis, which means you do not pay us anything unless we recover compensation for you. Call us at 1-888-209-8927 for a free consultation and case evaluation.